Talking Tech With NVIDIA

By Gary S. Vasilash

NVIDIA is a company that was once familiar primarily to gamers because of the GPU chips that it had developed that made rendering both fast and highly detailed.

Now NVIDIA is as familiar to those in the auto world, as it is working with Jaguar Land Rover, Mercedes, Volvo and more.

Lucid Motors is using NVIDIA tech in its Air. BYD has announced it is working with the company, as well.

NVIDIA developing maps for autonomous driving operations. (Image: NVIDIA)

What’s interesting is that these companies are using NVIDIA tech to build systems that provide the characteristics that they are looking for to make their vehicles distinctive.

NVIDIA is not merely producing processors that have massive processing capability—the Jetson Orion operates at up to 275 TOPS—that’s trillion operations per second—but it is developing software that will help facilitate autonomous driving operations.

The company has developed a mapping system that not only features information collected by specific vehicles, but which takes in crowdsourced information so that there is an accurate representation of what is going on: say a construction zone has popped up since that information was collected. The system has it.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” NVIDIA vice president of Automotive Danny Shapiro discusses what the company is doing and how it is doing it.

Arguably NVIDIA is at the forefront of developing the technology that will change transportation in many ways.

He talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Joe White of Reuters and me.

And during the second half of the show McElroy, White and I discuss a variety of topics, including the opening of the Tesla plant in Berlin, the speculation that Porsche might build the long-rumored Apple car, the announced range of the Ford F-150 Lighting, and a variety of other subjects.

And you can see it all here.

Volvo: The Return to Safety

Back to a core value

By Gary S. Vasilash

Volvo cars were once widely known for two characteristics:

  1. Their boxy design
  2. The fact that they were built with safety foremost

The company essentially “owned” safety in the minds of consumers.

But in the mid- to late-90s the company wanted to be more than something that was the Official Car Builder for Tweed-Jacket-With-Suede-Elbow-Patch-Wearing and Pipe-Smoking East Coast Professors.

Style took over from safety.

The design team members were evidently given French curves to supplement the T-squares.

And while the engineers back in Gothenburg were still figuring out the materials and the structures and the systems that would make the Swedish vehicles safe, their laudable efforts were eclipsed by things like Val Kilmer’s character driving a C70 in The Saint.

But safety is back.

In 2022 Volvo will launch a fully electric SUV, the flagship model for the brand.

(Image: Volvo)

It will come standard with a LiDAR system, from Luminar, and an on-board supercomputer system, from NVIDIA.

“Volvo Cars is and always has been a leader in safety. It will now define the next level of car safety,” said Håkan Samuelsson, Volvo chief executive.

When it comes to autonomous driving, the thing is that there is little in the way of driving and a whole lot in the way of trusting.

As in trusting that the system is going to work because you are, even though behind the wheel, acting as a passenger.

Safety is huge when it comes to autonomy. Which means a need for plenty of sensors, including LiDAR, and the wherewithal to process that information so that the system will have the appropriate responses (e.g., braking, turning, accelerating).

By coming out and saying that this tech is going to be built in to its new vehicle, it seems as though that Volvo is ready to take that safety mantle back.

(Kilmer? He’ll be back this fall as Iceman in Top Gun: Maverick)

BMW Virtual Art Car

No word on whether an NFT is involved

By Gary S. Vasilash

BMW has long been a leader in supporting artists through providing them with a highly visible canvas: a BMW vehicle. So there have been “BMW Art Cars” painted by John Baldessari, Alexander Calder, Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, etc.

BMW has been doing this for 50 years.

The OEM has contracted with Nathan Shipley, director of creative technology at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, and Gary Yeh, founder of artDrunk, to create “The Ultimate AI Masterpiece.”

The BMW “Ultimate AI Masterpiece,” based on an 8 Series. (Image: BMW)

On a simple level, they used a system based on an NVIDIA StyleGAN AI model to scan over 50,000 artworks over a 900-year period. They added in not only the artists who had done Art Cars, but also works from emerging artists.

And the result was projection mapped onto a BMW 8 Series Gran Coupe. Or at least a virtual rendition of one.

Said Shipley: “AI is an emerging medium of creative expression. It’s a fascinating space where art meets algorithm. Combining the historical works with the curated modern works and projecting the evolving images onto the 8 Series Gran Coupe serves a direct nod to BMW’s history of uniting automobiles, art, and technology.”

That said, somehow the actual artists doing work on actual cars seems like more of an execution of creative expression than running an algorithm.

Automating Big Rigs

There’s a lot of weight being hauled by one of those things. And a whole lot of processing for autonomy

Here’s something to think about the next time you’re rolling down the highway in your compact crossover:

One of those big rigs that is on the road with you can weigh 80,000 with a full trailer.

It doesn’t take a physicist to calculate that consequently stopping and maneuvering is going to require more time than the vehicle you’re in.

Plus system (look at the top of the cab) uses lidar, radar and cameras. (Image: Plus)

As drivers of those trucks tend to be on long-distance routes, developing autonomous driving capability for them is a growing area of interest.

One such company in this space is Plus, which is developing self-driving truck tech. According to Hao Zheng, CTO and co-founder of the company, they have more than 10,000 pre-orders for its system.

Here is a number from him that is even more astonishing than the aforementioned 80,000 and 10,000—even more than 80,000 times 10,000: “Enormous computing power is needed to process the trillions of operations that our autonomous driving system runs every fraction of a second.”

Trillions of operations every fraction of a second?

Plus has opted to develop its system using the NVIDIA Orin, which, according to NVIDIA, can deliver 254 trillion operations per second.

Evidently enough.

Still, driver or no, you’ve got to show those vehicles some respect.–gsv